PA advocates hit the road

It was a challenge the team at the Southern Precision Agriculture Association (SPAA) took by the horns – to increase precision agriculture (PA) adoption across Australia.

The farming group took to the road in 2014 for six PA expos attracting more than 600 attendees at Renmark (South Australia), Griffith and Quirindi (New South Wales), Moora and Esperance (Western Australia) and Ballarat (Victoria).

A group of SPAA speakers

(From left) expo presenter John Hornbuckle (CSIRO), Neale Postlethwaite (SPAA), Russell Ford (Rice Research Australia), expo presenter Peter Kayloch, David Lamb and Brendan Griffiths.

PHOTO: Emma Leonard

The aim was to bring together grain growers to discuss the practical applications of PA technologies on-farm. Topics ranged from controlled-traffic farming, to sensors, from unmanned aerial vehicles, or drones, to soil monitors and tools to manage soil variability using variable-rate technology.

The expos also covered on-farm stewardship resulting from improved land-management practices.

The expos were hosted in regions where PA adoption is a largely unknown practice.

SPAA speakers explained the possibilities and capabilities of PA to growers and agronomists who were keen to apply or increase the level of PA adoption in their area.

SPAA president Neale Postlethwaite said that promoting PA technologies provided people with the chance to develop new skills that could improve the ‘triple bottom line’ and establish support networks.

The expos were supported by the GRDC and the Australian Government through a Community Landcare Grant, several natural resource management boards and farming systems groups.

For SPAA, this was an opportunity to explain the benefits, built on many years of experience, of PA technologies to growers either not familiar with SPAA as an organisation, or yet to be convinced of the potential production lifts from PA.

Speakers were able to talk of the challenges they faced when adopting PA themselves, and how the application of PA tools and technologies has put them in a stronger business position than they might otherwise be.

The expo program included recent Farmers of the Year Trevor Syme and Rob Ruwoldt, Nuffield Scholars Mark Branson, Emma Leonard and Ben Boughton, and Conservation Farmer of the Year Michael Pfitzner.

It was an opportunity for many growers to meet with these leading growers in their own local surroundings.  

Some speakers, such as the University of New England’s Dr Mark Trotter, who spoke about SMART farming for grazing industries, addressed the gatherings via Skype.

The take-home message from PA agronomist Andrew Newall was that “you can’t manage what you don’t measure”. He said PA was more than just adjusting fertiliser inputs because some production limitations might be the result of other factors such as poor seeding or weed/disease issues. He said PA was about knowing, not assuming.

Growers who spoke at the expos included Neil Vallance, from Lake Bolac, Victoria, who described PA as “anything that can be recorded and measured”, and Ty Fulwood, from Meckering, WA.

Mr Fulwood has only been practising PA for two years but said it was providing a sound strategy for managing soil concerns such as acidity, and for addressing non-wetting and soil-water-holding issues.

Mr Fulwood has implemented a seven-step process to determine management practices that identify the limitation for each cropping zone and in turn identify where the greatest profit gains can be achieved.

Mark Branson, who farms in SA’s lower north, said that after 10 years of PA applications, clear economic patterns had emerged. He estimates an annual benefit today of $57 per hectare.

Overall, the expos found growers keen to learn about PA tools and technologies relevant to the farming activities in their local environment.

More information:

SPAA,

www.spaa.com.au

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GRDC Project Code GCS10794

Region South, West, North